Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ichigo Ichie

I originally wrote this in June 2008 , but it hasn't been available on the internet for some time now so I thought I'd re-post. It's a look back at one fairly intense weekend of gigs, and some thoughts and reflections about the relationship between performer and audience. It also connects with my appreciation of the book "Zen Guitar" and its author Phil Sudo. I have written about that in another blog post, click here to read it. And now, into the archives...

Every once in a while, my intention to pursue a wide variety of gigs results in some interesting and intense weekends.  It is one thing to book the gigs and pencil them in on your calendar.  It is quite another to actually go through the experience of playing an acoustic gig in a bar on a Friday night, then classical guitar in a library the next morning, then high energy electric guitar with a band that night!  But that is exactly what happened one weekend last month.

Here's how it went:

Friday night is at a pub near where I live.  I'm doing my solo acoustic & vocals set for a rowdy bunch of bar patrons and friends.  The song list is mostly classic acoustic rock, with a larger-than-usual helping of blues, thanks to audience requests.  I have done this kind of show many times since I started doing solo gigs many years ago.  It's still fun.  I enjoy the challenge of figuring out what music will connect with the folks who have shown up to have a good time and listen to some music.

It helps to have a very large request list of songs I can play.  Also, learning how to use a Loop Station foot pedal has greatly expanded what is possible to create as a solo performer, by allowing me to spontaneously record myself playing a guitar part, then trigger the recording to play back, and then start playing more guitar parts along with the recorded me.  When I first started doing loops, it took quite a while to get it all down and get it integrated into the solo acoustic gig, but I was excited about the idea, and it turned out to be well worth the effort.  I am very happy to be at the point now where I can create a more sophisticated, wide-ranging performance that is as much fun for the audience as it is for me.

The next morning I am up and out the door for two hours of solo classical guitar at a local library, starting at 11 a.m.  This came about simply because some good people who work there had a lovely idea to provide some classical music for their patrons to listen to as they browsed the shelves.  They got the local Arts council to carve out some money to hire a musician and someone thought of me.  I am always happy for an opportunity to play classical guitar for people.

My love affair with the guitar began when I started lessons at age 12, and subsequently devoted ten years of my life to classical guitar study.  Regrettably, opportunities to perform in this style are infrequent, and I do not have time to play classical as much as I'd like.  So it takes a little while on this particular morning to get my brain and fingers into the proper zone.  But eventually I settle in and get into playing some Vivaldi, Sor, Giuliani, Mozart, Bach, Bach and more Bach.  My mind is in a unique state: intensely focused, yet calm and peaceful at the same time.  People actually stop and listen, and their response is the same as how I feel - great appreciation for the opportunity to enjoy the sound of beautiful, timeless music played on the classical guitar.

A few hours later, I am at a club in the suburbs north of Baltimore, getting into another zone: cranking up my trusty 1974 Fender Stratocaster (and my PRS) for a night of classic rock with Hectic Red, a terrific band that has been wowing audiences for over 20 years with our repertoire of Yes, Rush, Steely Dan, Beatles, Queen, Toto and the like.  There will be no slacking off in the guitar department tonight, but even though this is my third gig in two days, I have no concerns. The band has been together playing this music for so long that doing a show with them is like putting on a familiar pair of shoes.  By the time we've started, I am feeling comfortable, loose and energized.  The band plays through the challenging song list with precision and gusto.

I have many moments now during Hectic Red gigs in which time slows down and I feel I am riding the wave of powerful energy the band creates.  I go into a state of appreciation for what a great band I'm in, and deep gratitude for the tremendous love and support coming from our many dear friends and fans.  It all comes through in my playing and I experience the joy of being a channel, giving back as much as I get.

A weekend like this doesn't happen very often.  Each of the three gigs involved vastly different types of music, different techniques and equipment, in different kinds of venues for very different occasions and audiences.  Having accomplished it all with success, I ended up with a great sense of satisfaction, but mostly a deep sense of gratitude.  I have always had a great desire to pursue music in its infinite diversity and infinite combinations.  It allows me many ways to express myself and communicate with people through this magical medium.  I feel very grateful to have these opportunities.  I send my heartfelt thanks to all of you out there who continue to come out to listen!

P.S.  - What is "Ichigo Ichie?" It is a Japanese phrase meaning, literally, "one time, one meeting." It comes from Zen Buddhism and is particularly associated with the Japanese tea ceremony.  In the ceremony, the host invites the guest into his home and offers the tea with great care, preparation and consideration, with all the generosity of his heart, with no expectation of reciprocity.  The underlying meanings of the ceremony are deep and have many layers; "ichigo ichie" reminds the participants to treat each ceremony as a unique and special event, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It is a teaching that has great relevance to the relationship between musician and audience, as Phil Sudo so elegantly explains in his wonderful book, "Zen Guitar." I highly recommend this book.  Click here to check it out. I have written another post all about about Zen Guitar and the late Phil Sudo, click here to read it.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic insight here, Ben. I have recently been challenged to define my personal hook - what it is that sums me up in one sentence. If I may borrow a line from your text above, I may have found my hook: "The pursuit of music in its infinite diversity and combinations". Yup, that about does it!